Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Louis, Quietly

Maybe it's just my usual cantankerous nature, but it is so much easier to complain than to say nice things.  Which is why discussing Louis, the restaurant, for a second time is so boring.  I must admit, there is nothing to complain about when it comes to Louis.  I came to that conclusion last June, shortly after the restaurant opened, and I again conclude that the folks behind this small, quiet establishment in Paris 9 just about do everything right.  The food is fresh and interesting, the service impeccable, the prices reasonable, the wine list is well-composed, and despite the small room, it is possible to have a conversation without other patrons listening in on more than half of what you are saying.  There are positive reviews of Louis to be found, but not a lot of buzz - this is a quiet success story, so far.  Hell, it's not even included in the 2016 Le Fooding guide, a serious lapse on the part of that otherwise stalwart reference.

Given that I've already reviewed Louis fairly recently, I'll just illustrate the meal that Co. and I had a couple Friday evenings ago.  If you want more details, you can scroll down to the bottom  and click on where it says 'Older Posts' to reach my June 2015 review.  Just to remind you, at Louis you have two choices - six courses (48 euros) or eight (62 euros, including a cheese dish).  Our 2012 Languedoc (Montpeyroux Sylvain Fadat) was priced at 37 euros.

An amusing amuse bouche to start off - the third in the row is a polenta cube beside its accompanying vinegrette.

Celery tiramisu

The final amuse bouche - poached egg and something, something.
(Another blurry one ..)  Foie gras with light-as-a-feather brioche for dipping.  If you went with the 6 course menu, you wouldn't have gotten this one, a serious loss.

Fish and seaweed

Perfectly cooked canette with vegetables

Chevre with toasts and pebbles, the latter not for consumption

A subjective look at dessert 1, reflective of the amount of alcohol I had consumed prior to getting there, but much, much clearer in real life.

Dessert 2, a deadly ganache

For good measure, some extras, minus the one I already consumed.  And not mention the little plastic doggy bag with some more patisseries for Co., a sexist discrimination of the worst sort.

Before bringing this one to a close, I have to complain about something, despite my saying I had nothing to complain about.  As is the case in many Parisian bistrots (and, no doubt, beyond), whose carte is comprised of a tasting menu and often nothing else, the courses are not listed, but are left as a surprise.  What am I four-years-old?  If I'm shelling out 150 euros or more for a meal - however terrific it might be - I'd prefer to know up front what I'm paying for.  But I guess that's an idiosyncratic quirk that you are likely to view as reviewer nitpicking, or worse.  So forget I mentioned it.  Did I say that  I really like Louis (the restaurant)?  Don't forget that.

LOUIS (Stephane Pitre)
23 rue de la Victoire
75009 Paris
tel. 01 55 07 86 52
web: www.louis.paris

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Le Galopin - Looks Can Deceive, In a Good Way

Le Galopin - not much to look at ...
Situated rather inauspiciously on a corner of the Place Saint-Marthe in the 10th, Le Galopin has been churning out positive reviews since its inception four years ago.  Yet you wouldn't have guessed that just by passing by.  The look on Co.'s face as we approached Le Galopin for a Friday evening dinner said it all: 'what kind of a dump are you taking me to tonight?'  That question was quickly rebutted by two small warm-up dishes that perfectly fit the chilly, mid-Winter evening.  With each ensuing dish, the food just kept getting better.  Co.'s visage quickly changed to: 'Why haven't we been here before?'

...but the view on the square outside is typically Paris (whatever that is)

Unadorned walls, traditional wood chairs and tables, and a laid-back clientele left me feeling overdressed in my dashing sportscoat and button-down sweater ensemble, but I can live with that.

The online interior image ...

...and my more artsy take on the interior

Since Day 1, brothers Romain and Maxime Tischenko have gone with a simple concept - one ever-changing fixed menu consisting of seven plates:  2 amuse-bouches, 1 entree, 2 plats, and 2 desserts, now priced at 54 euros.  Let me tell you, this is a great deal, and the affordable and varied wine selection won't break your wallet either.  Here's what the carte looked like (exactly, because I brought it home) on the night of our visit:

Click to read without having to use a microscope

And here are some blurry photos of the food, sorry, but you will hopefully get the idea:

Amuse bouche 1 - our only gripe here was that there wasn't more of it, until we remembered that it was only an amuse bouche.  Left on each plate were three mussel shells, but the plate consisted of closer to twice that number.  Those are squares of dried seaweed beside the moules.

Amuse bouche 2 - if I remember correctly, the bouillon de fane was radish-based.  The salmon eggs are lying on the bottom, so you can't see them, but I ate them and they were really good.

Entree - it's too bad this is blurry, because this simple dish of soft tofu, raw mushrooms, and cedrat was very nice.  That's okay, I didn't know what cedrat (a citrus fruit) was either.  The highlight for me was the rectangle of fried bread, an almost crunchy counterpoint to the rest of the dish.

This first main dish (cabillaud) may have been the highlight of the evening.  Excellent.

This second main dish (canard) may have the highlight of the evening.  Wait, did I already say that?  Heliantis, by the way, is a sunflower plant, something else I learned at Le Galopin.

Dessert 1 - I admit, I wasn't looking forward to this one, and anytime I see grapefruit listed as my dessert, I'm disappointed.  But, wow, this dish proved me wrong in a big way.  A very refreshing transition leading up to the chocolate.

Dessert 2 - Blurred again.  I was looking forward to this one and was not disappointed.

To sum: 7 for 7 - you can't do much better than that (except to maybe add some little cakes with the coffee, but you can't have everything).  Not a dud on the table.  I, of course, can't guarantee you'll be as lucky as we were during our recent Le Galopin dinner, but I quickly added the restaurant to my 'go-to Paris bistrots' category.  One of my counterparts, John Talbott, summed up Le Galopin this way:  “out of this tiny kitchen . . .  come dishes of such complexity, creativity and contrasting ingredients it kind of takes your breath away…”  I wasn't exactly breathless, but that was a damn good meal to start off the new year.

Les frères Tischenko

34 rue Sainte-Marthe
75010 Paris

On the way back home from Le Galopin

Monday, January 4, 2016

France Welcomes le Doggy Bag

True, TF1 and France 2 might have devoted the majority of their evening newscasts the past two evenings to the passing of national icons, singer Michel Delpech and actor/comedian Michel Galabru, respectively - no, not a good year so far for les Monsieurs Michel - you wonder how they could have missed the bombshell, reported in Le Parisien, that le doggy bag has come to French restaurants.  Oui indeed - as of January 1, 2016 all customers engaging in the ultimate faux pas of leaving part of their ordered meal on their plates can now take home the remains in a doggy bag.  However, there is a caveat:  according to the Union of crafts and hospitality industries (Umih), this development only applies to restaurants serving between 150 and 200 people a day.  That pretty much eliminates about 95% of the restaurants reviewed on this site, but then again, if you are eating at the restaurants I review, you're not going to leave much on your plates, its just too damn good.  

In addition to benefiting customers who would stand to benefit completely from what they paid for, the
measure has grander aspirations. It is an element of the 2011 law on bio-waste - the waste associated with food preparation, the remnants of food served, and food that passes its expiration date - which is projected to reduce food waste by 50% within the next ten years.  This reminds me Intermarché's well-known 'Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables' ( 'Fruits & légumes moches'), launched in 2014, which also was developed in the spirit of the bio-waste law.

We'll have to see how far we get with le doggy bag measure.  I remember reading a few years ago about French restaurants providing the option for a wine doggy bag, but have seen nary a one.  That may have to do more with the fact that I never stick around to see people not finishing their wine - the very thought sends shivers down my spine.

According to le Parisian, the Anglo-Saxon practice of providing patrons with doggy bags connotes a stinginess that is not to be confused with French dining propriety; as a result, the Management of Food, Agriculture and Forestry in the Rhône-Alpes has chosen to call the food transporter a "Gourmet Bag", and prompting the slogan “C’est si bon, je finis à la maison!” ("It's so good, I finish it at home!").  N'importe quoi.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 - Unforgettable

Le Carillon - 1 week after the attack
Little did we expect at the start of 2015 that such  beloved Parisian (and beyond) pastimes as lingering outside at a cafe with friends or a relaxed dinner in a restaurant would suddenly become matters of life and death.  Unfortunately, that's the new reality and 2015's bad news, and though it shouldn't be forgotten, there was also quite a bit of good news on the restaurant front during the past year.

The bad news came to me and Co. around the time we were ordering dessert on the Friday evening of the Paris terrorist attacks at An Di An Di ('go on, eat' in Vietnamese), a small restaurant that sits on a corner of the quiet rue du Liban.  Our hostess/waitress shared the vague (and tragically unfolding, as it turned out) news that a neighbor had imparted minutes earlier about some shootings around Republique.  It was only when we got home and turned on the news that we realized that some of the attacks were one metro stop from An Di An Di's closest station, Menilmontant, albeit far enough that we didn't hear anything.  We considered our luck at not having chosen to dine, as we usually do on Friday evenings, in the neighborhood that was hit - at one of our favorites like Septime, Villaret, Waly Fay, or the like.  Having attended, like most music addicts, the Bataclan on previous occasions, I also thanked my lucky stars I wasn't a fan of Eagles of Death Metal.

Inside tiny An Di An Di - you couldn't exactly feed an army

An di An Di turned out to be a nice find - some original Vietnamese dishes on a limited menu that didn't exactly bowl me over, and wasn't as cheap as some online reviews promised, but clearly warranted a second visit.

 2015 Highlights

There were some real dining highlights during the year and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of some new personal discoveries in 2016.  In order of preference, although I preferred them all:

Pierre Sang on Gambey (2 visits) / Pierre Sang in Oberkampf (1 visit)
Les Deserteurs (3 visits)
Louis (1 visit)
Neige d'été (1 visit)

No question that Les Deserteurs and the two Pierre Sangs have risen to the top of my favorite restaurants list.  Inventive, constantly changing cuisine, informative servers, unique ingredients, great ambiance, all at reasonable prices - what more can you ask for except for more of the same in 2016.  We had a reservation at Pierre Sang on Gambey with friends exactly one week after the Paris attacks - along the way we passed a couple makeshift memorials in the neighborhood.  Everyone was understandably on edge, but the fantastic meal was cathartic.

Les Deserteur's lotte - one of the best dishes I experienced in 2015

Nege d'ete's colorful salmon and flowers appetizer

A great dessert at Les Deserteurs in December

Another great dessert at Les Deserteurs in December (less blurry in person)

2016 Lowlights

Co. and I experienced a few big disappointments during the year - highly praised restaurants that didn't come close to our expectations.  Three that stood out in particular were Yard (6 rue Mont-Louis in the 11th), Gare au Gorille (68, rue des Dames in the 17th, in the shadow of Gare St. Lazare), and Pantruche (3, rue Victor Masse in the 9th).  There were a couple pretty good dishes at Yard, but the ambiance was a turnoff, the servers unhelpful, and I can't think of much that would move me to recommend that you eat there.  They have a wine bar next door that might be a better idea for schmoozing with friends, though don't quote me on that.  I was hoping for the shared duck dish during the trip to Gare au Gorille with Co., but that item was replaced on the carte during the evening of our visit by a shared pigeon.  The pigeon was tasty but unspectacular.  Maybe we just picked the wrong day to visit - I would have loved to have eaten at the Gare au Gorille that was described in le Fooding's review.  With two alums from Septime, it's probably unfair to write off Gorille after one disappointing visit, so I might give it another shot in 2016.  As for Pantruche, I can't explain the buzz about the place at all.  The meal was underwhelming and they sit you along a row of tables way too close for comfort.

2015's Most Memorable Meal

Hands down, this would have to be the Sept. 1st dinner with the Moose at Vilia, mine and Co's preferred Italian restaurant in Paris.  Maxi Silvetti was shutting down his restaurant for his end of summer congé and promising to open up a venue in San Francisco.  I don't know whatever happened to those plans, but as the only patrons (at least until a party of four occupied a second table a couple hours later), we were rewarded with Maxi's undivided attention.  To say the atmosphere was 'loose' would be an understatement, replete with plenty of gossip about some of Paris's noteworthy chefs.  Maxi promised a dinner composed of whatever they had left in the kitchen and the meal was epic, including a caille dish that was so good we had seconds.  Before too long, after finishing off our second bottle of wine, the hour grew late, a couple of Maxi's friends showed up, the music got a little louder, and everyone started imbibing Maxi's extremely potent gin martinis until the wee hours of the morning.  I don't remember much happening after that other than a trip in a cab to get home and a two-day massive hangover, but the evening was, how shall I say?  Ah yes, unforgettable.

Vilia's caille - so good, we had a second serving

Vilia's panacotta hibiscus et glace aux raisins de muscat - and I thought I didn't like panacotta

Owner-chef Maxi showing off his 'Born to Cook' tat (after a few martinis)

Owner-chef Maxi showing off one of his favorite knives (because I asked)

 Year of the Soft-Shell Crab

 Well, not really the year of, but for the first time since I relocated to Paris, I had not one, but two, servings of soft-shell crabs, although neither actually happened in Paris.  Some history, first - as a native Baltimorean (US, state of Maryland, think John Waters), I covet, dream about, and avidly search out steamed and soft-shell crabs.  But other than Asian restaurants, I know not how one can come by such dishes in the French capital.  Maybe you know, and if you do, please share.  At any rate, the first soft-shell crabs dish I experienced in 2015 was served at Farang, a top-notch Asian fusion restaurant in Helsinki.  Nowhere as good as the real thing out of the Chesapeake Bay, but I wasn't complaining.  The second serving occurred at L'éléphant Blanc in the Paris suburb Noisy-le-Grand.  Also nowhere as good as the soft-shells of my youth, but again, I didn't complain.

Farang's (Helsinki, Finland) soft-shell crabs appetizer

 2015's Weirdest Development

The bad news came around summertime that one of Paris's best, Bones, was closing its doors in August, and then the good news came in December that Bones was reopening on January 5th as Jones Café Restaurant, with the same team in the kitchen.  Which begs the question - what was the point?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Pierre Sang on Gambey - Voila, A Winner

I'll admit right from the start that this is going to be a piss-ass review, pardon mon francais.  I don't have the names of dishes, I don't have a photo of the carte - there wasn't one - I quickly forgot two or three key ingredients of each dish about ten seconds after our servers described them, and the place was dark enough to render most of my photos as illegible.  That said, I loved everything about Pierre Sang on Gambey, not to be confused with Pierre Sang on Oberkampf a few doors away on the corner (where Oberkampf, surprise, surprise, meets Gambey). PSO is also supposed to be pretty good --albeit less creative cuisine and less pricey - and it was livelier on the summer evening when Co. and I passed by.  PSO also looks more like a restaurant from the outside than the non-descript PSG, which I wouldn't have located if I didn't already know it was only a couple doors down from PSO.

We were seated at the counter, right in front of the open kitchen - a front-row seat - having passed on one of the few scattered tables.  Next time, we'll probably opt for a window seat, assuming the season calls for that.  The deal is a great one - six dishes for 49€ - and they were all excellent - unique, flavorful, fresh, compelling, and eye-opening.  The whole Gestalt traversed various ethnic cuisines, with some Asiatic permeating throughout, not surprising, given chef Pierre Sang's Korean and French roots.  The carte changes regularly, soley as a function of Monsieur Sang's whims, and the evidence suggests he throws caution to the wind when conjuring up an evening's selection of dishes.  Since I was so lame in noting the details of our meal, get a load of le Fooding's description of another selection:

...mandoo (fried dumplings) filled with poultry, anchovy cream, mussels and lemon caviar; seared chinchard mackerel, eggplant caviar with yuzu and cucumber kimchi; sliced prime rib, a chili dip, reduced jus and sweet rice with butter; magic wagyu flank steak with sweet miso, accompanied by a killer pork ragout and noodles made with sweet potato flour; beautiful cheeses with yuzu jam…

Yep, we had some of that, particularly the yuzu (an East-Asian citrus fruit, part sour mango), sweet miso, and cucumber kimchi, but with radishes, shrimp, fish, calamars, etc.  The cool part - or insipid, depending on your level of cynicism (hey, I'm cynical but even I thought it was cool) - is that you're not told what you're eating until you've already consumed the dish - only then does the server provide the details, and only after you've made your guesses.  I was pretty proud of my hits, but there were misses, and of course, there's a bit of cheating involved if you are sitting directly in front of the cooks in the kitchen, watching their every move.  I only have a couple photos that turned out, below, well, two out of the three below turned out - and I'll only tell you what they consisted of after you've eaten them:

 Throw in a superb Corbieres Ribaute (44€) and the bill for two, including one espresso (2.50€) came to 144.50€, a steal for what was maybe my best meal of the year.  With one visit under my belt - the first of many, I presume (visits, not belts), Pierre Sang on Gambey has quickly risen to the top of my list, with a bullet.

6 rue Gambey
Paris 75011
TEL: No phone number
Metro: Oberkampf, Parmentier

Graffito on the way to Pierre Sang on Gambey

Sunday, July 19, 2015

L'Apibo - Underrated on Tiquetonne

I don't know why, but I love street names like Tiquetonne.  It would be cool to live on that street, just to be able to tell people that I live on Tiquetonne.  Like I said, I don't know why.  Well, one reason I would like to live on rue Tiquetonne, a casual 5-10 min. walk from the Forum LeHalle, is that I'd get to go to L'Apibo more regularly.  As it is, Co. and I made our second visit to said venue this past Friday night, nearly a full two years from our initial excursion.  We liked it then and we like it a lot more now.

L'Apibo chef Anthony Boucher
Again, I don't know why, but L'Apibo doesn't seem to rate the well-known gastronomic review channels.  Not in Le Fooding - a big surprise.  Way back - especially in culinary timespace - in 2012, Le Figaro didn't exactly pan the restaurant, but dissed it with the following comments (translated from original):  "... young staff strives to make a copy out of the ordinary, unfortunately spoiled by too much haste. Nothing catastrophic, but that feeling of a school setting, hardworking, middle class.."  Ouch.  However true that may have been at the restaurant's debut, if at all, those comments ring hollow today.  Headed by chef Anthony Boucher, L'Apibo is all grown up, professional, yet laid back.  Nothing apparently hasty in the food's preparation and the service was right on.

I've now eaten at L'Apibo twice and never made it inside, both times opting for the small (8 tables?) and narrow terrace on the indubitably animated Tiquetonne - I've copied an image of the interior for your viewing pleasure anyway.  As for the carte, for dinner you basically have two options: (1) a menu carte - entree, plat, dessert for 35€ or (b) the more extravagent carte blanche au chef - 5 servings at 55€.  We did (1).

The meal started off with a summer-appropriate, mise en bouche of watermelon gazpacho - fresh and ephemeral - ephemeral because although I am 100% positive I snapped a photo, it has apparently evaporated into the heat of mid-summer Paris night.  Try this, imagine a small glass bowl filled with  semi-thick watermelon juice - there, that's what you're missing.  I did better with the other courses, as you will see below.

 The formal menu got underway with two excellent entrees.  I went with Le Thon Rouge - half cooked, with sweet red onions, soy sauce, chick peas, and some assorted vegetables.  Perfectly cooked and I was impressed, given that slightly cooked tuna Germon is a dish I experiment with regularly in my very own kitchen.  Co. opted for something more Mediterranean, mozarella wrapped in zucchini in a tomato broth.

Le Thon Rouge


Something very fishy about the main plates - we both ordered fish.  Co. got there first to the one I would have taken if she hadn't got there first - deep down, yes, I am a true gentleman - Le Bar - cooked on a bed of salt and black rice, tandoori, and caviar d'aubergine.  I didn't suffer too much - my choice turned out to be pretty good, although coming in second to the bar - La Lotte - roasted, with potatoes, celery, and enveloped in a fish soup, all in the direction of a bouillabaisse.

Le Bar - no, you are imagining Co. playing with her phone in the presence of such a grand fish

La Lotte

The greatest disparity came at dessert.  I hit the jackpot with Le Chocolate (don't you just love these original names L'Apibo came up with for the dishes?) - mousse onctueuse, ganache chocolat, tuile grue, cacao - all I can say is go there now and get this.  Co., however, was very disappointed with her more fruity choice - La Framboise.

Le Chocolate - epic, trust me
Le Chocolate again, excavation underway

La Framboise - Co. was underwhelmed

Add a couple chocolates with the cafe, and that's a wrap.

Speaks for itself

All of this washed down with a fine Chinon, reasonably priced at 29€, one of 6 or 7 featured bottles.  Grand total for two, 102€.

Once again, I'm not sure why L'Apibo isn't up there with the other usual subjects.  Creatively, of course, it doesn't compare with say, Les Deserteurs - the current bees' knees in the capital (for good reason) or Louis - but you could do much, much worse.  I'd say L'Apibo ranks at the top of some of my other underrated favorites, like Lilane, Fabrique 4, and Vilia.  Mainly because their street names aren't nearly as fun to say as 'Tiquetonne.'

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